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featured image credits: Matt Cardy & PAMatt Cardy & PA

Today the Tories announced their latest, brilliant scheme to boost employment: sacking around 750 Jobcentre staff, shutting down nearly 70 Jobcentres, and closing 4 offices.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) claim that they are merging the closed down Jobcentres with others already in existence. The DWP alleges that the cuts to this (already overstretched) vital public service will save the government £140 million a year for the next 10 years.

The cuts have been proposed for a long time now, and have been bitterly fought by The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union, who have organised strikes against some of the proposed closures, managing to save 6 of the 78 Jobcentres originally threatened with closure.

The move will make it even harder for claimants in some areas to attend their Jobcentre, thus making it much harder for them to claim benefits, and look for work.

Furthermore, there is no doubt that the amount of barely legal benefit sanctions that punish claimants by stopping benefit payments for anything from 4 weeks to 3 years, to a ban altogether (without due legal process first), for crimes such as being 1 minute late for an appointment will increase as Jobcentre are made harder to access as a result of these cuts.

Sanctions — at worst — kill people and have driven hundreds to suicide — they also cost us millions as the National Audit Office (NAO) reported in 2016, saying:

Sanctions have costs, for people who receive them and for the government. The Department does not track the costs and benefits of sanctions, but estimates that it spends £30-50 million a year applying sanctions, and around £200 million monitoring the conditions it sets for claimants.

 

The NAO estimates the Department withheld £132 million from claimants due to sanctions in 2015, and paid them £35 million in hardship payments. The overall impact of sanctions on wider public spending is unknown.

Jobcentres, for a long time now, have been at the sharp end of the Tories brutal austerity knife: in 2011 the Telegraph reported that the Tories would be cutting over 9,000 Jobcentre staff by the year 2013, following a 25% brutal budget cut in the October 2011 austerity budget.

Making today’s announcement by the DWP just the latest in an ever ongoing array of Tory attacks on the welfare system, claimants, and employees.

The PCS union bashed the Tories over the cuts, saying:

The government is abandoning unemployed, sick and disabled people, and putting hundreds of jobs at risk, by confirming today the closure of almost one in 10 Jobcentres.

And:

The Department for Work and Pensions has announced just six of the original 78 Jobcentres earmarked for closure will remain open, and only 11 of the 80 planned to co-locate with local authorities have been given a reprieve – and in most cases because of a lack of space in council buildings.

Adding:

Two Jobcentres that were to stay open have been added to the closure list

The PCS is also demanding that the Tories release vital details about the closures that they are currently keeping secret.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell recently supported a week-long strike at the Eastern Avenue Jobcentre in Sheffield in protest against plans to close the site — the strike was supported by around 50 union members in a sign of clear solidarity.

McDonnell said of the strike:

The DWP has forced through this office closure programme with no consideration for either the service or the staff.

The battle to keep the Sheffield Jobcentre open remains ongoing, speaking about today’s announcement the PCS said:

The news comes as we announce our members in Eastern Avenue Jobcentre in Sheffield, one of the threatened sites, will strike again from 17 to 21 July following a week-long walkout in June.

Labour MP Luciana Berger, whose constituency faces losing two Jobcentres, said:

The Minister has chosen to ignore a number of petitions and evidence based consultation responses challenging their proposal

 

We have one of the highest Ievels of unemployment and yet 3,000 people from my area are now expected to incur a cost of £8.60 a month to get to their appointments.

 

This is particularly difficult for the many single parents who are affected and for staff too. I call on the government to urgently release the equality impact assessment of their decision.

The DWP claims that due to the Universal Credit system being mainly accessed online (which is supposed to replace Job Seekers Allowance and certain disability benefits) that Jobcentres that are closing are currently not being used anyway.

Employment Minister Damian Hinds claimed that:

We’re merging some offices and locating other Jobcentre with local authorities to make sure that the welfare state and our employment support works for those who need it and those who pay for it.

The Tories’ latest assault on the welfare state illustrates quite precisely that they have no interest in cutting unemployment, creating decent jobs, or even keeping decent jobs.

The opposite is true, they create more and more unemployment, and strip us of our rights and then force us to work for next to nothing, doing anything with no security and no hope for the future.

As McDonnell said in the House today, the Tories would rather handout tax-cuts to the very richest in society, than fund our public services properly.

Then they turn around and have the absolute nerve to claim that employment is at a record level high — but they fail to tell us though that pretty much anything is currently classed as “employed”.

What the Tories really mean by this is the boom of the “precariat“.

We are a country working for lower wages now than before the financial crash, in an ever increasingly insecure jobs market, littered with miserable zero-hours contracts, thanks to an endless list of Tory policies designed to beat us into the ground: working harder than ever for less than ever.

An economy that they have created precisely by sacking public sector workers, enforcing a real-terms public-sector pay decrease of 14% and cutting welfare benefits, accessibility alongside an endless list of other disgusting Tory austerity policies.

Now, thanks to the Tories’ genius scheme to boost employment, nearly 1000 extra people will shortly be joining the dole queue.

Jobcentre staff going from one side of the counter to the other — welcome to Tory rule ex-Jobcentre staff: the Tories give a f**k about ANYBODY except the ultra-rich, good luck avoiding those sanctions (trust me, you’ll need it).

 

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